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Can You Be a Pro-Life Democrat?

In a desperate bid to win seats back, Democrats are striving to be more inclusive to all potential allies. And yet they still haven't learned that compromising the party platform is a losing strategy.
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It was early April, and I was sitting on a stage with five other panelists. Our job? To civilly discuss whether or not it was possible to be a “pro-life feminist.” As one of the three abortion rights activists speaking, I was obviously supposed to be a “no,” so many in the very Catholic audience were mildly shocked when I said of course you can—and even more shocked when I said that I could technically be considered one.

But the reality is that I really could be a pro-life feminist: I’m as feminist as all get out, and I also believe that no one should ever have an abortion who doesn’t want one, but doesn’t feel like they have the resources or support to carry to term. The difference is, I also firmly believe that no person should ever be denied or delayed if that person wants to end a pregnancy, road-blocked by laws, financial constraints or the inability to access a clinic. Because of this, I will always be categorized as “pro-abortion” by the right—and that is perfectly fine with me.

And that's what I think about when I hear that Democratic leadership is being cajoled into giving pro-life Democrats a larger voice and more support as they run for office. This happened again on Tuesday as Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, met with Democrats for Life, the anti-abortion arm of the political left. According to Charlie Camosy, who is a board member of Democrats for Life, the meeting suggests "the party may be ready to rethink its approach, at least in terms of tolerance for pro-life voices."

The Atlantic was more open in what was discussed, including a list of demands that the anti-abortion left had for the party in order to get their support. "In addition to a request for a statement direct from Perez that hte party does not have a litmus test, Democrats for Life's list calls for the party to make resources available to support pro-life Democrats," reports Clare Foran. "The list asks for 'the establishment of a Democratic Pro-Life Political Action Committee to be used specifically to support pro-life Democratic candidates.' It also requests that the 2020 Democratic Party platform be 'inclusive of Democrats who oppose abortion,' and calls for eliminating language currently in the 2016 platform 'opposing the Hyde Amendment.'"

In other words, they want abortion completely removed from the party platform altogether, and their own pool of financial and other resources to solidify the deal.

For a pro-life Democrat, this probably isn't an unreasonable request. To them, because abortion is the ending of a human life, it is a human-rights issue as much as gun control, saving the environment, ending the death penalty, or any other protection for the common good. But because they believe abortion is the murder of a human, they can completely divorce it from all the other progressive policies that supporting reproductive rights also supports. If abortion is "murder" it compensates for the discrimination against those who get pregnant, who can no longer decide when or if they want to give birth. It outweighs the economic impact of an unwanted pregnancy on a pregnant person and their family, or the physical costs that come from pregnancy and birth. If abortion is "murder," it doesn't have to be looked at as an issue for women's equality, or as an economic issue, or a health concern. It's simply about making sure every pregnancy turns into a baby and anything less is an injustice to that potential child.

What the pro-life Democrats can't accept is that the vast majority of those who identify as progressive do not believe that potential human life outweighs the need for a woman or a person who can get pregnant to have complete bodily autonomy. According to Pew, 87 percent of Democrats do not want Roe overturned—nearly nine out of ten people on the left. That is a consensus you are unlikely to see on nearly any other policy in the Democratic Party, whether or not it is in the party platform.

Meanwhile, Democrats for Life is floating the idea that abortion is just this one small issue where their candidates differ from the party, but even their own “case study” demonstrates that’s simply not true. According to Camosy’s article, the group offered their own example of a prior “successful” pro-life Democrat was embraced before but now would be rejected because of the party’s “abortion orthodoxy”—former Tennessee Congressman, Democrat and abortion opponent Lincoln Davis. What he fails to mention is that Davis did more than just oppose abortion: He was also embraced by the NRA for his opposition to gun control, voted against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, and had a horrible record on same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination legislation.

At what point does the term “Democrat” lose all meaning?As we head into the midterms, this is a fight that unfortunately is unlikely to go away. With President Donald Trump in the White House and the House gerrymandered to within an inch of its life, it’s completely reasonable for Democrats to be looking for any leg up to try and win back one or both chambers of Congress, as well as prepare for defeating the president when he is up for reelection. But caving on the issue that actually defines us as Democrats is not the way to do it. We’ve tried that before, and all that left us with is a mass of Blue Dog Democrats who were easily picked off in the 2010 midterms because voters rightfully saw no difference between them and the Republicans running against them.You can be a pro-life Democrat. You can be progressive and oppose abortion. But when you try to enforce that belief on others, and take away their ability to make the decisions best for them in their situations then no, you are not a feminist, you are not a progressive. And while you may still technically be a Democrat, you do not—and should not—get the resources we need to win. 

Robin Marty is a freelance writer and speaker and the author of CROW AFTER ROE, a book outlining the blueprint to end abortion one red state at a time. Marty’s articles have appeared at Cosmopolitan.com, Politico, The Guardian, and other publications, and she is a Women’s Media Center SheSource Expert on Reproductive Rights and Politics. Follow her: @robinmarty
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